What is the Maillard reaction? – Visually and Tastefully Appealing

Ever wondered what produces that browned visually appealing and delicious outer layer on steak among other foods?  if so, you’ve essentially asked yourself what the Maillard Reaction is!

In the simplest explanation the maillard (pronounced “my-yard”) reaction is a series of chemical reactions that occur during cooking to brown the outer edges of food.  When sugars and proteins are presented with enough heat the reaction is able to take place and a delicious meal is the outcome.

 

Requirements of the Maillard Reaction

There are a few basic requirements for the Maillard Reaction to occur.

First the actual edible item must have the required components : 

  • protein (amino acids – especially lysine)
  • reducing sugars (simple sugars with a smaller molecule size that attract the amino acids when the correct environtment is present, these are often reffered to ar carbonyls and include fructose, lactose, and a form of glucose)

Next, The environment must be suitable for producing the chemical reaction:

  • heat (and a fairly high level of it!)
  • time (the amount will depend on temperature and moisture levels)
  • pH

 

The Process – Scientifically

The Maillard reaction is a series of chemical reactions that give browned food its colour and flavour.  The reactions occur between animo acids (proteins) and reducing sugars, as well as between the products of those initial reactions.

IN SIMPLES SCIENTIFIC TERMS:

1) a sugar (more specifically it’s reactive carbonyl group) comines with an amino acid (more specifically its nucleophilic amino group)

2) The product of step 1 is rearranged into a glycosylamine (which in unstable in the current environment)

3) The product of step 3 is rearranged into an aminoketose by an intermediate [this aminoketose is known as the Amadori after a scientist that isolated the reaction compounds].

4) a few additional rearrangements later (producing a deoxy-hexosulose), are an endiol which is later conveterd into a deoxy-hexodiulose are the result and produce that much saught after flavour!

 

***the type of amino acid present in the initial reaction can have a large effect on the resulting flavour.  Not all components produced through the maillard reaction are beneficial to our health, and some molecules are even thought to be carcinogenic***

 

History

The Maillard Reaction was first described in 1912 by Louis Camille Maillard.  The french chemist was actually studying biological protein synthesis at the time, and the browning process was named after time.

 

don’t forget to leave a comment about this post or what you’d like to see next

 

Further Information

Serious Eats Cooking Advice

The Spruce

Science Direct

Wikipedia – Maillard Reaction

Cooks Info

Science Geist

International Journal of Food Science

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6 Responses

  1. Kimber D says:

    Very interesting! I can easily get lost in a place that full of trivia, my curiosity for information on nearly any topic is a hard one to control at times. Ooops, I may have said too much about myself there. Seriously though, thank you for the post.

  2. Lakisha says:

    Very interesting! I knew meat browned when you cook it but, never thought about what the process would be called. I just thought it was cooking..I learned something new today, so thank you for writing this post.

    I don’t eat steak much but, this article makes me want to go and experiment. When I attempt to cook a steak next time, I will pay more attention to the temperature and see if I can taste the difference in the meat flavor.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for reading Lakisha! There are plenty of other foods that you could experiment with as well, steak was just one example. Other meats, coffee beans,and even toast may be more to your liking 🙂

  3. Nic says:

    I’m a bit of science geek myself and love cooking. So this was really interesting to me. I’ve known about the Maillard reaction for awhile but never had it explained to me in detail. I will make sure to check back for more interesting facts!

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